The Instagram buy button and the challenge for big brands

The Instagram buy button and the challenge for big brands
10 Feb 2017
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By Jack Brown


With the arrival of the recent ‘buy’ function, it seems like Instagram is destined to be the fashion world’s new platform of choice. But is the industry slow to pick up on what thousands of teenagers have been capitalising on for years?

Streetwear reselling has grown with the rise of social media and a growing awareness of brands like Supreme, Jordan and of course Kanye West’s ‘Yeezy’ brand. In 2014, Supreme – arguably the most powerful fashion brand that you’ve never actually heard of – celebrated their 20th anniversary. The New York Times said, “No offense, but if you don’t know about Supreme, maybe it’s because you’re not supposed to” when talking about the streetwear giant.

Similar to brands such as Stüssy before them, Supreme’s outlook on growth is significantly different to any other business model you are likely to have seen. Much of the hype around their product is derived from the exclusive nature in which it is sold. By brands limiting themselves to fewer than ten branches worldwide, the much desired product becomes verging on unobtainable for many customers. The lack of supply for this popular demand has led to the birth of the reseller market.

Supreme Streetwear Growth

For years we have seen products released that were so anticipated, people were willing to queue and even camp out to get their hands on them – a common practice for many streetwear resellers. Release days are an opportunity for these young entrepreneurs to secure the new ‘must have’ items – many of which are being purchased to fill pre-orders for the unfortunate people unable to make the journey to the retailer. Once the stock has been secured, most likely after a long and restless wait, resellers then have the task of entering the cloak and dagger world of the Instagram marketplace.

Due to huge competition on Instagram, these sole traders have had to tirelessly work to build their accounts into a base for a reputable business. Pre-release date – many resellers will use tactics that we have seen for years in the fashion industry. They will share look books showcasing the newest collections, open discussions to uncover what the most desired products are and post pictures of celebrities who have already managed to get their hands on the anticipated product. You could almost call it market research. From information gathered, all through Instagram, they are able to make calculated purchases to ensure the highest return on their investments.

Once the product has been obtained, the real hustle begins. Previously, we have seen EBay serve as the chosen trading floor for all aftermarket sellers. Undoubtedly, EBay is arguably one of the largest and certainly the safest platform for customer to customer trading. However, it would appear that many resellers have been discouraged by the 10% fee charged by EBay, on top of additional PayPal fees.

The Path to Purchase

With the arrival of Instagram, resellers had a new marketplace which offered the opportunity for a more personal, trustworthy and heavily visual shopping experience. The hashtag was of course also a key player in the success of the app as a shopping platform. By searching #yeezy350 we can immediately see 987,175 posts about the heavily anticipated sneaker by Kanye West. Although not all of these posts are necessarily to sell the shoes, as we scroll through the feed we can view posts of the item. We get a further insight into what they look like when worn and the people who are wearing them, all micro conversions leading up to a purchase.

It’s not hard to find the correct size in the desired shoe from one of the many thousands of resellers who have it in stock – though it’s likely selling for a massively inflated price. From here, shoppers can message the seller where they can potentially barter (although unlikely) but most importantly build some rapport with the seller, gaining back the ever-important customer service that is undoubtedly lost when buying from big brand websites. Once delivery has been discussed, the shopper can then complete the transaction safely by sending money via PayPal which provides cover in the unlikely event of any foul play.

Shopping via Instagram

Instagram has the potential to be a hugely successful platform for big brands due to its fashion orientated and heavily visual nature. However, should they take note of some of the practices observed by these resellers? We can’t help but think that part of the reason that Instagram currently works as a trading platform for the customer, is because of that intimate buying experience and exclusivity. It has an element of intimacy and allows people to completely express who they are as an individual through the content they post. The worry is that the buy button has the potential to add a somewhat faceless element to the app.

In the same way that Instagram provides a seamless platform for its users to share their photos and videos, it is essential that the trading process is seamless for the buyer too. Due to the reduced inventory that brands can store compared to the likes of Amazon, there’s a potential risk of poor user experience that brands need to be aware of. For example, when viewers click on an image they may find a dead link or a product that is not available which may result in loss of faith and engagement in the seller. Ensuring a smooth experience for the user is key to the success of the app, and not just as a market place.

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